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Frederick Stewart S42360704



Research Essay

Topic: Moral Panics and the Media

Frederick Stewart


Summer Semester 2016/17

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Throughout recent times, the global media has incited a growing concern

regarding young working class males and their propensity for violence in

the public domain. This essay will look at the four articles from four

separate major Australian news agencies and their portrayal of the tragic

passing of Queensland adolescent Cole Miller, which occurred as a result

of a coward punch, struck by two working class youths of New Zealand

descent in Brisbanes Fortitude Valley in the early hours of January 3 rd

2016. Furthermore, the essay will critically analyse the articles and

examine if the media is highlighting the issue of male youth violence in

society to provoke a moral panic on the issue that could in turn garner

support for government policies such as the well-publicised Lock Out

Laws. Through the analysis of four newspaper articles relating to the

incident from separate outlets in conjunction with scholarly articles on the

topic, this essay will attempt to conclude whether the above statement is

correct by subjecting the research to an application of Cohens theory of

moral panic.

The framework presented by Stanley Cohen describes a moral panic as

Episodes of heightened public anxiety or alarm in response to a certain

problem (Cohen, 2002). He also postulates that such episodes contain a

person or group of persons that has been defined as a threat to societal

values and interests (Cohen, 1973). Cohen then elaborates on this when

referring to the media portrayal of the threat and claims that mass media

characterises these events in a stylised and stereotypical manner, which

provokes reactions from their viewership. By doing this, the media has a

tendency to be pushing the agendas of the political sector and can bend

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public opinion to support their legislation. This media tactic is aimed at

eliciting anxiety and concern from the public and their perceptions on

certain events. Cohen argued that the following factors are required to

create a moral panic. Firstly, the media must paint the offender or

perpetrator as a suitable enemy who can be easily denounced by the

public. Secondly the victim of the violence of crime must be a suitable

victim, meaning that the public must believe that the event could happen

to anyone within society. Finally, the media must convince the public that

the act or event was not an isolated occurrence and is in fact endemic in


The media as a whole is a serious actor in the drama of moral panic and

how the greater public react to violent crimes due to the press portrayal

of certain events such as the death of Cole Miller. Through examining four

newspaper articles which immediately followed the event, we can see that

the media acts as a moral entrepreneur and uses a certain formula to elicit

the publics support for the One Punch Can Kill and Queensland Lockout

Laws legislation through garnering the impression of a violent crime wave

in Brisbanes nightclub districts.

As discussed earlier, the establishment of a suitable enemy for the

violence that lead to the death of Cole Miller is easily seen in the four

articles that have been chosen. In the first article, Daniel Maxwell is

painted by Elks (2016) as a working class roofer who is an immigrant from

New Zealand with no parental supervision or guidance who has a

penchant for violence. Despite the fact that Maxwell has no prior criminal

record, the media member has portrayed the adolescent as a folk devil

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(Cohen, 2002) by stating that the accused was denied bail as If hes

released on bail the belief is that he will fail to appear or will commit

further offences. This manipulation by the journalist is endemic of the

medias tendency to incite moral panics as the perpetrator is demonised in

the public eye. This sentiment is corroborated in the other articles through

the words of the ABC who claimed that Maxwell was wandering the streets

looking for fights prior to the fatal encounter despite this claim never

being substantiated. Cohen (2002) grouped several clusters of society as

those who are constantly blamed by the media as being the subjects of

moral panics. Chief among these is the young working class male

engaging in violence, and this cluster is one that the media has attempted

to elicit a moral panic for eternity as is once again the case here. Across

three separate articles the perpetrator is described as being a 21-year-

old roofer from Logan (Carson & Akers, 2016) that is solely included not

as context, but rather to paint the young man as being part of this cluster

that Cohen described. This tactic of stereotyping by the media has been

observed in the works of Scharrer & Ramsubramanian (2015) that implied

that stereotypes such as Race, gender, class and ethnicity are often

produced by the media in relation to violence in the public eye. From the

content analysis of the newspaper items, it can clearly be seen that the

wrongdoer is being painted in a stylised a stereotypical manner as a

suitable enemy, which validates the essays claim of the media highlighting

male youth and the violence associated with them as the enduring folk


Secondly, across all of the articles used the victim has been painted as a

very suitable victim which has manipulated the public into believing that

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this event was not in fact an isolated event and rather that it is one that

could happen to any member of society at any time. The works of Weitzer

and Kubrin (2004) demonstrated that the media is largely responsible for

the shaping of the publics beliefs on crime and this idea is also

corroborated through the articles. The victim of the attack, Cole Miller is

portrayed by media as a darling child of a wealthy family who was a

talented Brisbane Barracudas water polo player and former Brisbane

State High School student (Higgins & Hair & Williams, 2016). By

positioning the victim as a regular fun loving young man, the media has

definitely satisfied Cohens second requirement of a moral panic by

establishing a suitable victim for the violent crime.

Thirdly, the articles examined all suggest that the idea that this singular

instance of violence leading to a tragic death at the hands of a working

class male is not an isolated event, and is rather commonplace despite

this idea being largely incorrect. The article written by the Australian

Broadcasting Corporation (2016) included a separate story that outlined

Queenslands supposed history of one punch and bashing deaths and

injuries that number in the low single digits. Under the framework

presented by Cohen (2002), by including this as part of their story the

media was attempting to convince the public opinion of a epidemic of

these types of threats in society. But to what end was the media

attempting and succeeding in inciting a moral panic?

As stated in the introduction to this work, it is the firm belief of the author

of this essay that the media was trying to create a moral panic using the

tragic event of Cole Millers passing to garner approval for the politicians

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soon to be implemented legislation of the lockout laws that took effect in

June 2016. It can be argued that by inciting fear in their readers through

moral panics as the articles examined today have, the media can bend

public perception to support government initiatives even if they directly

compete with basic human rights such as what times one can enjoy a

night out in public and when one cannot. Heath (1984) argued that

newspaper articles of a violent crime such as those, which have been

outlined above, have a direct influence on the publics psyche and

impression of societies faults and that such campaigns can directly

influence the levels of support for government initiatives.

While this may very well be the intended response that the media was

trying to manifest from its adult audience through these articles,

campaigns such as this can just as often have negative effects on the

younger generation. Huesmann & Taylor (2006) postulated that the media

in fact plays a serious role in the violence that is exhibited in todays

society due to the fact that they consistently highlight violent occurrences

as part of their news coverage. This sentiment is validated by the authors

who claimed Coverage by the news of violence also contributes to

increased violence, principally in the form of youth violence (Huesman &

Taylor, 2006).

It is clear from the content analysis that has been conducted in relation to

the news coverage of Cole Millers death that the media can play on public

concerns quickly by inciting a moral panic to garner approval for

government and politicians ideals. The medias exposure of the heart-

breaking loss of Cole Millers life definitively demonstrated the

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characteristics of what is required to create a moral panic as proposed by

Stanley Cohen and thus Cohens theory is certainly applicable in this


Carson, V. & Akers, T. (2016, January 4). Pair In custody over

senseless bashing in Fortitude Valley as teen dies in hospital. The Courier

Mail. Retrieved from


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Cohen, S. (2002). Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the

mods and rockers(3rd ed.). New York; London; Routledge.

Cole Miller: One-punch victims father remembers beautiful son;

Armstrong Ranata, Daniel Maxwell have charges upgraded. (2016, January

5) Australian Broadcasting Corporation retrieved from



Critcher, C. (2002). Media, government and moral panic: The politics

of paedophilia in Britain 2000-1. Journalism Studies, 3(4), 521535.

Elks, S. (2016, January 4). Teen Fighting for life after one punch

attack in Brisbane. The Australian. Retrieved from




Heath, L. (1984). Impact of newspaper crime reports on fear of

crime: Multimethodological investigation. Journal of Personality and Social

Psychology, 47(2), 263276.

Higgins, I. & Hair, J. & Williams, P. (2016, January 5). Cole Miller:

Fatal one-punch accused Armstrong Renata, Daniel Maxwell face court on

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upgraded charges. Australian Broadcasting Corporation News.



Huesmann, L. R., & Taylor, L. D. (2006). THE ROLE OF MEDIA

VIOLENCE IN VIOLENT BEHAVIOR. Annual Review of Public Health, 27(1),


Weitzer, R., & Kubrin, C. E. (2004). Breaking news: How local TV

news and real-world conditions affect fear of crime. Justice

Quarterly, 21(3), 497520.

Scharrer, E., & Ramasubramanian, S. (2015). Intervening in the

medias influence on stereotypes of race and ethnicity: The role of media

literacy education. Journal of Social Issues, 71(1), 171185.

Appendix A Newspaper Articles Used and Content


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Article 1.

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Article 2.

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Article 3.

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Article 4.

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Common trends and themes from content analysis of

newspaper articles:

1. -Cole Miller positioned as a suitable victim for media to attract

support for new political agendas and policies -Detective Acting

Inspector Thomas Armitt There could be no better advertisement

right now as to why that campaign [One Punch Can Kill] exists.
2. -Positioning of attackers as folk devils and as a suitable enemy

Violent working class youths who emigrated from New Zealand with

minimal parental supervision who asked if the victim wanted to

3. -Painting attacker as violent youth prone to violence despite no

criminal history, attacker was denied bail due to fears of failure to

appear and of risk of further offences.

4. -Applauding of government policies and legislation for enabling

harsher penalties for coward punches through Safe Night Out

legislation. This also gave credence to the idea that this was not an

isolated event and that the lockout laws and government legislation

were addressing this threat to societal values.

5. -Exacerbate public perception of the dangers of being in fortitude

valley after proposed lockout hours attack occurred at 3:35am on

Sunday 3rd Jan.

6. -Each article published parents testimony of their child that further

positioned him as a suitable victim.

7. -Media acting as moral entrepreneur by influencing the public to

adopt stricter laws which in turn restrict their rights to a night on

the town. Acting premier Jackie Trad said Mr Millers death

highlighted the need for new alcohol-fuelled violence laws.

8. -Media pushing idea that this is not an isolated events through

expert testimony from Dr Anthony Lynham (acting Health Minister)

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There really is no need for me to comment - its exactly what Ive

been saying for years.